Kiwi Parent Magazine
Aengus was born on the 7th of October 2007 at 7.30 am. And according to us (mummy hormones and daddy goggles on) he was the most perfect, gorgeous little boy.
A couple of months down the track he started to get eczema. It slowly spread from his face to his body. His cheeks were constantly raw. We went to the doctor and he prescribed hydrocortisone cream. This didn’t seem to clear it up and my doctor had no other suggestions other than Non-Ionic cream all over his body.
With no joy from the doctor, we then went to a naturopath and she recommended excluding milk from my diet, as I was breastfeeding, for 2 weeks (no better), then wheat (still no progress) then nuts (no difference either). She then recommended a hair analysis test for $110. In hindsight I’m glad that Aengus was bald, as I later found out that these tests are highly inaccurate. She also said that I could have blood tests (RAST) that are sent to America for analysis for $350.
In the meantime, I was also trying every cream on the market and watching our money pour down the drain with no results! Aengus’ weight gain was also slowing down and he slipped from the 50th percentile to below 25. I had stopped taking photos of him as I couldn’t bear it.
The breakthrough for us came when Aengus was 6 months old. I was eating a piece of toast with peanut butter and Aengus put his finger in it. I wiped his hand, but he must have touched his eye as it swelled up so much that we couldn’t even see his eyelashes. We went straight to the doctors office where several people looked in our direction with horrified looks on their faces. One elderly gentleman asked me if I had burned his face as his eczema was also very flared (as was the norm at the time). The doctor prescribed antihistamine and suggested that he might have a peanut allergy.
That week I also had a well-child visit with the Plunket nurse. Aengus had not gained any weight in his fifth month and was now in the 3 percentile.
Nobody seemed to know what I should do next. Our precious wee boy was skeletal, red, raw and bleeding no matter what I did. Fortunately, we had a friend whose daughter has allergies and I gave her a call. She recommended that I get him to an allergy specialist as soon as possible. She also sent me a book called The Parents Guide to Food Allergies by Marianne Barber. This book is great as it explains exactly what an allergy is and how to deal with it.
There are six allergy specialists in New Zealand – four in Auckland and two in Christchurch. We chose to see Rohan Ameratunga of Quay Park Specialists because he had dealt with my friend’s daughter and he specialised in children’s allergies. He was also the cheapest. We had the choice of going on the public health waiting list (approx. six months wait) but we chose to see him privately because of Aengus’ lack of weight gain and the peanut reaction he had had. At this point, I wish I had paid for full health insurance and got it all for free!!
Aengus was sent for blood tests (RAST) at no extra charge (yes, these are the same tests that were offered by the Naturopath for $350). The RAST tests are the most accurate test for allergies. Yes, it is awful to hold your baby while they take blood but it’s better than having itchy, bleeding skin or an anaphylactic reaction. Skin Prick tests are also available, but are not as accurate as you can get false positives and it doesn’t show whether the allergy is getting better or worse. The RAST results are graded from 0 (no allergy) to 4 (very high). Aengus was a ‘4’ for egg, tree nuts and milk, ‘3’ for peanuts and wheat. On the non-food side, he was also a ‘4’ for dogs and dustmites and a ‘3’ for cats and grasses. We were stunned. It also explained why eliminating just one food at a time had had no effect.
That day, we were prescribed an Epipen. This gives Aengus a dose of adrenalin if he has an anaphylactic reaction. This was the scariest thing as we hadn’t realised that what we saw as just eczema was actually a dangerous food allergy. We live 20kms from town and were very lucky that he hadn’t directly eaten any allergen (I was passing it through my breastmilk). We were also referred to an Allergy Nutritionist to help us sort out what he and I could actually eat.
Our world was turned on its head. I became a food Nazi. Everyone had to wash their hands after they had eaten something that he is allergic to and not kiss Aengus for 2 hours as the proteins can stay in the saliva for that long. At a friend’s house Aengus pulled a cold cup of coffee with milk in it onto his leg. When I changed his trousers he had hives where the coffee had touched him.We now had to learn a whole new way of cooking. At home, I decided to not have anything that he was allergic to as I wanted one place where I could relax and not worry about what he was touching or putting in his mouth or cross-contamination in the kitchen. When we’re out, we have to stalk Aengus and make sure he doesn’t put anything into his mouth or that no-one gives him anything to eat.
There was an article in Allergy Today that said a high proportion of allergy parents suffer from depression, anxiety or both. I could now see why – you have to be on your guard at all times. You have to take all food and utensils with you (Aengus had a reaction from a ‘clean’ spoon at a café once). You have to read every label and say goodbye to most of your favourite foods. You have to make everything from scratch with really weird and expensive ingredients like oat milk and buckwheat flour. Cripes!!
When I’m feeling a bit down about it, I try to remember that allergies are nowhere close to the worst thing that your child can have, and remember how lucky I really am. Also, if we keep all traces of the food away from him, his immune system will eventually forget to react. This is how children grow out of allergies. People are wrong when they think I’m scared of Aengus dying. This is very unlikely as I always have our epipen with us. I am most scared of him coming into contact with allergens, reacting and then lessening his chances of growing out of it. I’m working my butt off so that this is a short-term problem and not a life-time sentence!
We have become used to our new lifestyle and it has become second nature. There are also a few positives. We eat very few processed foods and no junk food. Also, with the help of the Allergy Nutritionist I know that Aengus has a very well-balanced diet and is getting the nutrients he needs. My coffee group have been absolutely fantastic. They have been through the whole journey with me. They watch over Aengus and make sure only friendly food is served at coffee mornings.
Allergy New Zealand has also been a lifesaver. They publish a quarterly magazine with articles about the latest research and heaps of personal stories and handy hints. They also sell an allergy cookbook, which has been wonderful.
Finally, I was able to get a Child Disability Allowance from WINZ. This is $41 per week and is not income tested. It goes a long way to paying for the specialists, etc.
Aengus now looks fantastic. His weight is back up at the 50th percentile and is eczema is now very minimal. I’ve been told that “he doesn’t look like an allergy baby” and a lady in the street last week told me he had beautiful skin. People used to say he had lovely eyes….but what’s wrong with his skin? Best of all, at our last visit, the specialist said that if we keep going the way we are, he should grow out of the food allergies by the time he’s five.
The advice I give to parents who suspect a food allergy, is get to an allergy specialist as soon as you can. The sooner you get a diagnosis and treatment, the better the chance of him/her growing out of it.
Just so that you know what you’re in for, these were the costs to get the diagnosis. Remember that once you have diagnosis, the Child Disability Allowance off-sets this.
- 1st visit to the Allergy Specialist – $250, $120 thereafter
- Epipen – $120. This lasts between 6 – 12 months as it expires.
- Other creams and Pinetarsol, prescribed by the specialist – $40
- Allergy Nutritionist $120.”
If you are suffering from any allergies, there’s an opportunity for you this weekend to attend the Gluten Free Food and Allergy Show in Auckland.
Ticket sales start from 9.30am and the doors open at 10am.
Your ticket price also gives you entry to free seminars where you can get advice from experts on a range of topics, such as:
• How to get the nutrition you need when you have allergies or intolerances
• Understanding food allergy and intolerance
• Living with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), endometriosis and pelvic pain
• Tips, tricks and essential ingredients for a FODMAP-friendly life
PLUS NEW to Auckland – FREE Food Demonstration Room (ECO SHOPPING will be at Stand 26 which is just outside the food demonstration room). Your entry ticket also gives you entry to all the free food demonstrations that are running. Watch our experts as they show you how to make some of their favourite gluten-free dishes.
Seminars and demonstrations run both days of the show.
There is free parking for up to 300 cars at the North Shore Events Centre. And if you can’t find a spot in the car park, free street parking is available in the surrounding area.
Reusable bags are available for only $2 should you need something extra to carry all the show specials you purchase.